Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My wallet is feeling awfully light as of late...

One of my goals for this year was to prove that it does not cost more to eat local, organic food than buying organic at the grocery store (see the side-bar). I haven’t been keeping impeccable records, but I can tell you with complete confidence that I am definitely spending more money on groceries than I was before. I am receiving a good deal on organic produce, since we are part of the J.R. Organics CSA program, but everything else has a high price tag. Local organic olive oil? That will be $19.99, please. Pesto? $9.50. Salsa? $7.50. Junior free-range boiler chicken? $20.00. All for the same quantity I can find in the grocery store for half that price.

Thing is, when it comes to my local purchases, I am almost always dealing with artisans. Not the large companies like Kraft that can cut costs with a factory setup or that are subsidized by government controls over corn prices. Most of these local artisans are excellent at what they do and create high quality, gourmet products. But that’s the key word: gourmet. No one is making cheap Kraft Singles locally! An increase in quality naturally leads to an increase in cost.

Now, I’m willing to pay more because I can do so without much sacrifice (except perhaps eating out less, which is hardly a hardship), but I don’t know what to tell my fellow Americans who have mortgage payments and children to support. It’s hard to convince someone, when they’re just getting by, that they should buy locally and organically because it saves our wide-open spaces and aids in continued availability of good, healthy food. It's not concrete enough. Ultimately, it come down to the wallet. It is possible that as the price of oil rises and transportation become more expensive, it won’t be as inexpensive to import food from around the world as it will be to buy locally produced food. That may provide the financial incentive that is missing now, but in the meantime, as the ultimate goal of eating is to sustain ourselves, and we’re able to do that more cheaply buying meat from factory farms and Kraft, most Americans are going to continue to do so.

6 comments:

Diane said...

You're certainly right! When I mention to someone that I've canned and frozen local (often organic) produce, their first question is, "Is it less expensive?"

I have to honestly answer that it is not, especially this year as I had to buy lots of jars and supplies. Next year will be better, but I don't know if it will ever actually be less expensive unless I grow the veggies myself. Our town is starting a community garden, so maybe I'll actually do that some day....

Our local supermarket here in PA has strawberries on sale - buy one/get one free. They were from Florida and cost $4.49 a quart. So, $2.25 a quart isn't too bad for January, is it? They looked edible, but not fantastic, so I resisted temptation and didn't buy any. However, when I'm in Florida in February, I plan on filling up on all those local fruits! Does it matter that I will be using all that fossil fuel to get down there? :-)

jamiethornton said...

In Sacramento right now all the citrus trees are in full fruitage (I'm just going to pretend that's a real word).

When I walked the dog the other day I passed by a house down the street that has a huge tree heavy with lemons in its front yard. A sign hangs from one of the branches and says "Free".

Yay for eating local and cheap!

By the way -- I've turned to the dark side and started my own writing blog...

Diane said...

My husband and I attended an organziational meeting for the new community garden. Plots are going to be $50 for 20X20, $30 for 10X20, and $15 for 10X10. We're thinking we may give it a try. Wish us luck!

Ed Bruske said...

Absolutely right. Even those of us who support local food and local agriculture should be talking more about the issue of pricing and how we can bridge the income and class divides. I get the feeling that price is a taboo subject--it's rarely mentioned in local food discussions. But I have the feeling I am boutique shopping when I visit my local farmers market. What a shock compared to the food I grow myself. I completely sympathize with your sentiments.

Daniel said...

the prices of industrial food are so low because so many of the costs are not internalized...if you haven't read Paul Hawken's Ecology of Commerce, it's an interesting (though redundant) read and goes into these issues.

Nicole said...

I think it's great that you broached the subject that so often seems to be ignored by hardcore proponents of the 'buy local' movement. Having just come back to the states from Sicily where it is both easy and affordable to buy good quality local ingredients, I am in complete shock at how expensive it is to do the same in San Diego. Walking through the Hillcrest Farmer's Market, I was shaking my head in disbelief at the prices of seasonal produce. I was in New York over the summer and had the pleasure of visiting the Union Square Greenmarket and I don't remember the prices being nearly as high. With no kids, I can afford to buy this stuff but I have to admit that it doesn't make me feel very good. Would that extra money be better spent if it were going to charity that combats hunger? I've found myself asking that question a lot lately.